Can Ministers and Parishioners Be Friends?

I meant to talk about this yesterday, but I was so aggravated by that stupid pattern, which continues to be not much better. Like everyone else in the world, I read Hans Fiene’s article over at The Federalist about how men and women can’t be friends.

Apparently he claims he was only about 40% serious, but which 40%, you know? The part where men and women can’t be friends, I assume.

I looked him up. He’s a Missouri Synod Lutheran Minister whose church is about thirty minutes from one of the towns I grew up in. That’s pretty far north for a Missouri Synod Lutheran. If you aren’t up on the intricacies of differences between denominations, just picture in your head the cool female Lutheran minister you know. Missouri Synod is not that kind of Lutheran.

But there are some other things on his church website that I’m not sure enough about the Missouri Synod to know if it’s in line with their theological thinking or if this is just his own brand–when I read his church’s website, it seems to me that they believe in transubstantiation–that the communion bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. But Lutherans, at least none I’m familiar with (and I’m like 65% certain this was Luther’s position himself), don’t believe this. They believe a slightly different kind of mystery where the bread and wine are both still bread and wine AND the body and blood of Christ.

As someone who’s ethnically Methodist, both things seem odd to me since we go more for the metaphor–this bread and grape juice symbolize the body and blood of Christ.

And, on the one hand, this is a minor detail. On the other hand, Lutherans and Catholics have been arguing about this since, well, since Lutheranism began, pretty much. It’s one of the key disagreements.

Another thing I’m also less certain of is his church’s policy on who can take communion. Most Methodist churches and my dad explicitly have an open table, meaning it doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe. If you’re there, you can take communion. You don’t have to, of course, but you can.

Now, I have taken communion at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church before and I certainly don’t believe many, many things about their doctrine, but no one stopped me or told me I couldn’t.

On the other hand, I accidentally took communion at a Catholic mass once when I was young, from a priest who absolutely knew who I was, because I didn’t know non-Catholics weren’t supposed to take communion at a Catholic church. And I’ve always been grateful that he didn’t embarrass me by stopping me.

So, you can’t take communion at Fiene’s church unless he okays it by assuring that you’re doctrinally aligned with the congregation. And again, I’m not sure if this is the Missouri Synod stance and I just fucked up in the past by not knowing it, or if this is his own thing.

But then I read his biography. He’s not just a pastor. He’s a pastor’s son.

And then everything clicked into place. I just wanted to shout, “I see you, Rev. Fiene!”

I’m not trying to excuse him. That’s not it. But I went from being “Oh, fuck you, you weirdo dink” to “Oh no! You poor dumbass.”

There’s a way in which you can see the patriarchy working like a trap for women, like these people run around just trying to lure women into it–just be pretty, be nice, don’t challenge, etc. and you can get a man and, when you get a man, you win–and at this point, thanks to feminism, you all know how that screws women over.

But this seems to me to be a clear cut case of a man with a bear trap on his own leg trying to convince others that the natural state for men is to walk around hobbled by bear traps. There’s nothing wrong with him! No! Being emotionally crippled is what makes him manly. Look how funny and charming he is while he spouts his weird, sad ideas!

Because, damn, when I read that he was a minister’s kid and is now a minister–and that kind of minister, where he has to judge his congregation’s worthiness to be in communion with its God–I wondered if he ever had a friend, a real friend, in his whole life.

I kind of doubt it. And I think I see him trying to believe that’s just the natural state of things and not something that was done to him, even as he tries to do it to others while insisting it’s just the TRUTH of things. That’s what I see.

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9 thoughts on “Can Ministers and Parishioners Be Friends?

  1. Where did he grow up? I ask b/c in St. Louis, LCMS has their own parochial school system. And if he went to those schools, the bear trap is even bigger than you know.

  2. i was raised LC-MS. It’s “consubstantiation” and closed communion though not rigidly enforced. A very socially and theologically conservative denomination.

  3. I’m pretty sure “only Missouri Synod Lutherans should take communion without talking to the pastor for approval” is a Missouri Synod thing, not a pastoral idiosyncracy. A good friend’s wife’s family was Missouri Synod, and he couldn’t take communion when they visited her family–they were conservative (PCA) Presbyterians.

  4. This guy’s article confused me. I wanted to tell the author, “Go fix yourself a cup of tea, relax, and then think about the point you’re making that’s most important to you. Then, just write about that one. Take it easy, buddy.” Then again, maybe I have to ask my husband to tell him because that’s kind of a friendly statement.

    A lot of the points weren’t logical to me but I think that goes back to your point of someone being hobbled by something and trying to make it OK. Like the line, “If you are a lady who believes your dude friends are genuinely “just friends,” ask yourself this: Which of these things are you better at giving a man than another man is?”

    I feel like this doesn’t account for a scenario where Man A knows Woman B and Man C. Man A’s personality and interests mean he and Man C have little in common and would never hang out. Woman B on the other hand has similar interests and a personality that allows them to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. But that doesn’t automatically mean they’re people who are also well matched for a romantic relationship. This argument doesn’t take into account the infinite variations in humans and their relationships. Intentionally or not, I think that’s telling us something about a certain way of viewing the world. To me, that view belittles the complexity and unique aspects of humans because we can just bypass it by sticking them in binary gender boxes.

    So, Lutherans. (Aunt B, you saw this coming from me.) It annoys me that the article just says Lutheran at the end when identifying the author because ELCA or Missouri Synod are fairly different. I was raised ELCA and my husband was raised Missouri Synod and there’s a lot of stuff he mentions that is totally different from my experience. My response when someone says Lutheran is always, “Which kind?”

    I remember growing up asking in confirmation what the difference was between my church and the Missouri Synod one down the road. One thing I remember the pastor saying was that you couldn’t take communion there if you weren’t Missouri Synod but our church handled it differently. My experience has been that it is pretty up front about closed communion. However, when I’ve visited Missouri Synod church I’ve had church members say I could have communion but the pastor making an announcement to the contrary. Then again, I’ve never been anywhere that’s had a bouncer for communion so I think most visitors do what they want. (I feel obligated to put this disclaimer: I follow the rules.)

    I want a study of what percentage of pastor’s kids become pastors. I think that percentage is really low….

    Two kinds of Lutherans, gender relationships, and pastor’s kids…I am your total target audience for this post. :)

  5. Oh, wait. If I know pastors and Lutherans like I think I do I should have told him to have a cup of coffee. :)

  6. Am I some kind of communion asshole?! Lord almighty. I need a list of denominations with closed tables to check against my list of places I have just waltzed to communion at.

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